Is that tiny home at the top of your Pinterest board a realistic possibility for living in Ontario? If you’re planning to live in a tiny home in Ontario as a full-time dwelling and you require a building permit, your home will need to be an Ontario Building Code (OBC) compliant construction.
So, can you know if a tiny home you have your eye on is OBC compliant?
We had a chat with Stephen from White Rock Tiny Home Solutions to answer this question.
Is that tiny home OBC compliant? Only the paperwork will tell you for sure
Stephen makes clear that the only sure way to know if a tiny home is OBC complaint is the permits and building inspection reports.
“If you walk up to a home, the first thing you need to ask is, ‘Was this home installed with a municipal building permit?’”
“That’s the easiest way to know, because anyone can tell you anything about your home, insulation, plumbing, electrical, etc. But none of that matters! What you have to do is come back to the code that the home was built to and the inspection process that it went through to validate that whatever that builder is saying actually happened.”
“You’ve got to see the actual permits and the actual building inspection reports that were filled out along the way. To make sure that your structure and plumbing and electrical were installed and inspected – all those things are so critical in determining whether a home is Ontario Building Code compliant.”
I’m dreaming of a tiny home – what designs are OBC compliant?
For the casual photo scrollers among us, we asked Stephen if there are any quick ways to tell that a particular tiny house isn’t Ontario Build Code compliant.
“There are things that you would note if you walked into a home, like the size of the various rooms and whether a certain room is a combined or separate living space. There’s some nuance to that. We discovered that the publication from the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing contained a lot of inaccurate public information. The document says it allows tiny homes down to 188 square feet in size, but once you add up all the individual space requirements, you actually can’t do that.”
We submitted a request and they told us the document was just a guide. Interesting, right?
“We figured out that the smallest you can go is while still being Ontario Building Code-compliant is about 215 to 220 square feet. We submitted a request and they told us the document was just a guide. Interesting, right? They said to not go by that document, it’s just advisory and told us to always go to the Building Code.”
“In a bathroom, you want a certain amount of amenities. You need a shower, a toilet, water, etc. You’d say, ‘Well, everyone does that’. Well, actually, no. If someone built a bathroom without those, it obviously wouldn’t be Code compliant.”
“There’s also the amount of windows, so the light. If you go into a home and it’s very dark and there are no windows, that’s not Code compliant. You need a certain amount of light. The windows also need to be a certain size for your fire escape needs and meet a certain proportion of the wall space.”
Then, there’s the ever-present question of loft bedrooms in tiny homes.
“One of the things is the minimum heights in lofts. The Ontario Building Code calls it a mezzanine. The minimum height in a mezzanine is 6’ 10”. So, if you see a loft with a sleeping arrangement in it and it’s obviously lower than that, it’s not Ontario Building Code-compliant. Also, if you see a loft with some kind of ladder up to it, that’s also not OBC-compliant.”
“You can still have an upper level bedroom, like in our home, provided it’s the right height and it has stairs that are to code in terms of the rise, run and width.”
The model that Whiterock Tiny Home Solutions built to code does include two spaces with lower ceiling heights than the minimum required. The house is designed so both of these spaces are not “living” spaces and therefore have reduced requirements.
“On the other side of the home, we have what’s called a service stair to a mechanical room. The mechanical room is shorter than the standard height for living space because it’s only deemed to be accessed a few times a year. It isn’t a living space.”
All these things are taken into account by the OBC to ensure a tiny home is just like any other home from a safety standpoint
“Different parts of the Ontario Building Code deal with mechanical rooms versus occupied, everyday living space: sleeping, eating, bathroom, and all that stuff. The crawlspace is another example. You could use it for storage but, again, it’s not intended to be occupied in any way. Essentially, what the code says is that it’s not safe. You can’t get in and out of there in a safe way.”
Other things to look for in the tiny home photos you are browsing are things like a fire escape.
Stephen continues, “Essentially, what they’re saying is there needs to be enough space and height [to get out in an emergency]. That also includes the stairs, the size of the door, the way it swings, the type of locks – all these things are taken into account by the OBC to ensure a tiny home is just like any other home from a safety standpoint.”
“For example, they recently changed the Code. They now say you can’t have a sliding exterior door for entering and leaving your tiny home. It must be a swing door.”
“The entire Building Code is primarily about safety.”
Hidden features that might not be OBC-compliant
Spotting obvious features that aren’t OBC-compliant might seem relatively straightforward. But what about hidden things such as what’s behind the walls?
“There can often be a ton of code compliance issues behind the walls. Electrical, plumbing, HVAC, framing, installation, cladding – all of that stuff.”
“You also need to look out for things like air quality in your home. For example, in our homes, without getting into all the technical details, we have to have an air exchanger because we’re using spray foam insulation. Where does it need to be? And are those things compliant in terms of the heat they might generate? There’s no Code requirements for air conditioning, although I actually believe they’re considering adding that because of the hot summers.”
It’s also important to think about the pitch over a door. You don’t want ice falling on you as you’re walking out of the house. Stephen explains, “That’s more in the roofing systems. If you use a metal roof and have it falling towards the door or a certain type of pitch, it might be dangerous. Our pitches are minor enough that the water goes off but snow wouldn’t fall off fast enough to hurt someone, and they also sledge away from the front door. But in some cases you might have to think about those guardrails towards the bottom of the roof pitch to stop the ice from falling.”
If there’s no paperwork, how can you tell?
Outside of having all the inspection reports and a building permit, Stephen says you would have to be an expert to figure out if a home is built to code – and you will need x-ray vision.
“I mean, you could go underneath the home and see what kind of framing system was used for the floors. Sometimes you can look inside of a vent and see what beams were used to construct the walls – two-by-fours, two-by-sixes, etc. You could use some sort of scanning system to see how far they’re spaced apart. You might be able to go up into the attic to see the framing too.”
“The reality is, though, it’s very hard to validate what’s behind the wall unless you’re inspecting it along the way. For example, to meet the plumbing code, you need little protectors on the studs where the plumbing goes through. That’s because if someone goes to drill a hole there, they would have no idea whether there’s a pipe behind the wall or not.”
“Your wires need to have a certain separation. Your spray foam needs to be a certain thickness. Maybe they missed two whole wall cavities. You just have no idea, right?”
“Again, you need to have it compared with the engineering drawings and construction drawings. But do they match what was actually built?”
What does it take to be an OBC compliant tiny home builder?
Whiterock Tiny Home Solutions builds OBC-compliant homes that are inspected by the local building official in Cambridge, ON and can be shipped elsewhere in Ontario with that paperwork, as part of a two-permit process.
Stephen says, it took some time and back and forth with the local building department to design a tiny home that was OBC compliant.
You get better at it as you go.
“There is a level of expertise that is needed to design a tiny home and make it Ontario Building Code-compliant. It’s a skillset. It also takes collaboration with the planning department, because they have their own interpretations and understandings. You go back and forth and back and forth. We’ve had quite a few iterations of that. People often don’t understand this process – they’re like, ‘Oh, it’s just been through inspections, right?’ – but a lot of work goes into every tiny home.”
“At White Rock, we’re now at a point where we’ve worked through this process again and again. We’ve worked through a lot of the issues so that, when we present plans now, it’s maybe one or two minor tweaks, and we know we’re going to be okay.”
“You get better at it as you go.”
White Rock Tiny Home Solutions work with buyers in Ontario to design and build a tiny home that meets the OBC requirements. If you’re looking for a tiny house as a primary or secondary dwelling, give Stephen a call. He’s always happy to help!